45 Cricklewood Broadway, 020 8452 9226
Gourmand writes: Christmas arrived early this year. The fairy lights draped along Persia Restaurant's walls and windows glistened with festive spirit, but it's the friendly service, good value menu and excellent food that makes this Cricklewood's winter wonderland.
The mezze special, a £10 platter of starters, was almost enough to sate us. We started with sabzi (fresh mint and basil, walnuts and feta cheese), warm flatbread and fantastically thick, creamy hummos. The chicken livers zinged with fennel, the borrani esfenaj was a piquant aubergine dip, and the salad olivieh was, rather less exotically, a solid rendition of the potato salad. The only disappointment was the kashk-e-bademjan, one of my favourite Middle Eastern dishes. I like it when it's made with plenty of kashk (fermented whey) and has a deep, smoky taste. We shared a main course, the chello chengeh kebob, cooked to perfection with a juicy saffron marinade and a blushing red centre. Doogh, a carbonated yogurt drink, seemed to alienate Gormless, but he enjoyed the falooda, a weird but wonderful desert of rosewater and frozen vermicelli.
Despite spending much of the evening fending off daft questions from an irritating couple who made Gormless look well-informed ("do you serve sushi here?"), our host was smiley and chatty without being intrusive. Extra points for the BYOB policy and the two-for-one voucher that came with our £26 bill, and I'll be back for the belly dancing and live music on Saturday nights. With or without the fairy lights - Persia Restaurant shines.
Gormless writes: Gormless I may be, but I am as capable as being moved by delicate beauty as the next man. So long as the next man is not Wazzo, that is, who only really likes big tits. As we ate in the workaday environs of Pink Rupee I glanced across to our next stop and was charmed by its interior of twinkling fairy lights. Since then, Persia Restaurant had grown in my imagination. I anticipated dusky Middle Eastern beauties pouring wine from bottomless jugs, soft music, an ambience; everything that had been missing from the restaurants so far. Was I disappointed? A little, yes.
Persia Restaurant is certainly a well maintained, pleasant space, but it fell away from my romantic image. The fairy lights were joined by loads of lamps and bulbs that combined to over-illuminate everything. Our waitress was less the enigmatic temptress of lore and more a bright, engaging presence who played the lady-gourmand and guided me through the menu. We started with mezzeh - six dishes including chicken livers and potato salad, eaten in combination with bread. This tasty pick 'n' mix was followed by a kebab that had no pita and no skewer, simply beautifully cooked lamb chunks with rice. We drank doogh, a yoghurt drink I failed to acquire the taste for, and finished with falooda; rosewater ice flakes with thin stands of vermicelli.
There is no doubting the quality of the fare on offer at Persia Restaurant, but I expected a bit more than a night making the noises you make at a good restaurant. Perhaps it was the lumpen fellow diners, perhaps the distracting plasma screen… I don't know, but the night lodged at the level of a dully familiar restaurant trip and never really got off as an adventure, culinary or otherwise.
OVERALL SCORE: 15/20In a clash of restaurants with pre-WWII country names, Abyssinia leads Persia by a precious half-point!